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The Story of a... Sword Swallower

For BILL BERRY, 34, of Orlando, it takes nerves of steel—and no gag reflex—to stomach 23 inches of steel.

There’s probably under 100 sword swallowers in the world.

I am a comedian/juggler/stuntman who decided to pick up sword swallowing as part of my show. I want to bring [the audience] on a rollercoaster of laughter, fear, excitement, suspense.

The first time I saw a sword swallower was when I was home sick from school during fifth grade and saw “The Enigma;” he was on some show during daytime TV. I thought, “Wow! That is the coolest thing in the world.”

It took almost a year before I could get the sword all the way down, then I had to pull it out real quick.

Take a glass of water, put it in the fridge or freezer for a while, then try to swallow as much of it at once as possible. You can feel the water go all the way down to your stomach. It’s the same exact sensation as swallowing a sword. It goes across the tongue and into the throat, in a straight line to the stomach. It only gets difficult when it reaches that flap that separates the top of the stomach from your throat. It’s just about the most uncomfortable thing in the world you can imagine.

It’s my observation that there are two ways you can prepare. Some sword swallowers do this every day, and if they stop practicing, they lose their ability. Mine is much more mental, it’s more of a focus thing. The mind’s more powerful than you imagine it to be.

You definitely have to find a way to stand to find a straight shot. All I do is take one really deep breath, and on the exhale, I become focused.

When I have the sword down inside me, if I clench my teeth to the blade I can feel my heart beat.

You need to throw up a few times the first year. You might stick a sword down your throat and throw up, once or twice a day, then set the sword aside and come back the next day and do it again. Now I can eat a whole pizza, then do a performance and I’m fine.

The standard sword I use is 23 inches with the hilt. The longest was 32, 33 inches, with a blade of 28½, which went all the way in. Your stomach is only so deep, so that kind of limits you in how long of a sword you can swallow.

I’ve had no major injuries, nothing I had to go to the hospital about.

My family was very unsupportive for the first couple of years. They only really started to appreciate it after I began making more than my brother and that was after I’d been doing it for six years. Now they all wish they had my life, they wish they had seen the things I’ve seen.

People do things to try to distract me, and I act like it fazes me to get a better reaction, but I think they would have to strike me with something to really break my focus.

My best sword swallowing accomplishment would have to be when I won the world championship, sword swallowing while juggling five clubs. No one else in the world can say they can do that.

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